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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Brazilian creates innovative tool to measure journalism's impact on society



From the start, journalists are taught that the profession is important for society and for the defense of democracy. But how can that relevance be measured in people’s everyday lives?

To answer this question, Brazilian journalist, developer and researcher Pedro Burgos created Impacto.Jor, a program that measures the different effects of reports – from a simple thank you from a reader to the overthrow of a secretary or the change of a law.

Pedro Burgos (Photo: Facebook)

The tool, created in partnership with the Institute for the Development of Journalism (Projor) and Google News Lab Brasil, is already being used by five Brazilian newsrooms: Gazeta do Povo, Folha de S. Paulo, Veja, Nexo and Nova Escola.

The operation is simple. A bot reads pages from sessions of municipal, state and federal legislative chambers looking for mentions of the outlet and registers them. It also verifies social networks of personalities registered as influencers in the coverage area, as well as other blogs and news sites. Additionally, it is possible to record 'impacts' manually – the idea is for every reporter to digitally note the repercussions she received from her reports.

An 'impact editor' will then verify the effects recorded by the reports and classify them as positive or negative, as well as communicate the size of the repercussions generated – from one to three stars.

After collecting statistics for a period of time, newspapers can send 'impact reports' to their readers, supporters and advertisers. The numbers can help to get a qualitative idea of the journalism produced by the outlet, as opposed to quantitative metrics for likes, shares, page hits, and sales. The idea is that the two poles create a hybrid index of journalistic success.

The project fits into the Credibility and Verification pillar for Google News Lab in Brazil and Latin America. "There's nothing like this happening anywhere in the world," Marco Túlio Pires, head of Google News Lab for the region, told the Knight Center during the 12th International Congress of Investigative Journalism in São Paulo.

"I've always felt that Brazil is a very innovative country. We have to recognize and give space for this to appear. Brazil is a very important player for journalism, but as we do not speak English we have to give more visibility to our projects. "

The newsroom at Gazeta do Povo (Credit: Lineu Filho)

Burgos pointed out that several nonprofit journalism organizations have already adopted the practice of informing their communities about the changes they have brought about in real life. The journalist spent two and a half years in New York City, with experiences at City University of New York and Columbia University, studying institutions like ProPublica, and The Marshall Project, where he worked as an engagement editor for a year. Similarly, Burgos highlighted, for-profit newsrooms use slogans like Washington Post's 'Democracy Dies in Darkness,’ which emphasize the importance of journalistic activity and, consequently, the support of readers.

"The idea is to understand how the report reverberates in public debate," Pedro Burgos explained to the Knight Center. "We want to prove to the reader that we have importance in democracy, and this is important even for the journalist's self-esteem. It's not about just getting signatures, it's about gaining support for our mission, members for the community."

For Cristina  De Luca, editor at large of IDG Brasil, the project fits into an overall trend of digital journalism, putting the reader – not the advertisers – in the spotlight.

"The media needs to know its reader very well. And for that, you have to understand the impact on his life, including changes in behavior and attitudes. We are increasingly aware that reputation and credibility are not linked to 'clicks’," De Luca said in an interview with the Knight Center.

The experience of Gazeta do Povo

The newspaper Gazeta do Povo in Curitiba, Paraná, implemented the software in the newsroom about two months ago and has recorded almost 150 impacts, about three a day. The editorial director, Leonardo Mendes Júnior, said the new tool has already created excitement among journalists, with zero investment for the company. Impacto.jor came at a crucial time for the outlet: the traditional newspaper from the south of the country recently shifted its focus to digital and began to publish its printed version only on weekends.

Leonardo Mendes Junior, editorial director of Gazeta do Povo (Courtesy: Henry Milleo)

"We have more reporters and editors engaging. Before, we talked a lot about audience metrics. Since we no longer have the daily newspaper, it is only natural that you have a fear in the newsroom of ‘anything goes’ just to get an audience. With impact, we can measure relevancy, quality. It's a boost for our business strategy," he told the Knight Center.

While journalists adapt to the new routine of registering the repercussions of their material, management at Gazeta has been concerned with strengthening the different ways impact is measured.

"Each section had autonomy to define what an impact is. The Gastronomy section, for example, can impact the success of a restaurant. We can also sharpen the debate on a topic. This reflects the newspaper's design, which covers all areas, well," Mendes said.

The editorial director added that the tool can serve for internal management, in order to measure the productivity of each professional and section of the outlet. "We are still formatting how to measure quantitative and qualitative impact. We are slowly calibrating the measure of success of each section," Mendes explained.

For Burgos, the reverberations of measuring impacts on journalism will generate long-term changes. "Eventually, this may change the editorial line of the outlet itself. Thinking about impact while working is much more a change of culture in newsrooms. It's no use having software if you do not have a mentality for it," Burgos summarized.



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